© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What American Diplomacy Will Look Like Under Biden


Americans weren't the only ones closely watching the 2020 presidential election. Across the globe, many waited to see if it would be four more years of Trump's America-first approach to foreign policy or a return to a more traditional diplomacy. Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas is the vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and he's been thinking about what American diplomacy will look like under a Biden administration.

Welcome to the program.

JOAQUIN CASTRO: Thank you. It's great to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Congratulations on your reelection, first of all.

CASTRO: (Laughter) Thanks. I appreciate it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you see as the most pressing foreign policy issues a Biden-Harris administration needs to address come January?

CASTRO: Well, generally speaking, President Biden is going to have to make sure that the United States stands up for what we've stood up for for generations - freedom, democracy, human rights, rooting out corruption. Obviously, domestically, he's going to have to help rid this country of the pandemic. But also I think the United States can play a lead role again in helping the world rid itself of the pandemic. So the pandemic really, to my mind, is task No. 1.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does that mean joining the WHO? I mean, you know...

CASTRO: Yes, I believe so. I believe that we should rejoin the WHO and other multilateral bodies. I think we should rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, for example. I think we should also rejoin the Iran nuclear deal. So he's going to have to engage the United States in the world again because our reputation, the perception of the United States around the world, has suffered during the Trump administration. And nations have doubted now whether the United States is truly a leader among nations.

So I see the Biden administration re-engaging us. I hope that Congress can be a full partner with the Biden administration in doing that. And those are the proactive things. But first, there's really going to have to be a damage assessment done about just the kind of repair that needs to happen because of the Trump administration. And what I mean by that is, for example, at the State Department, the morale is...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I was about to ask.

CASTRO: I'm sorry.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because - I was about to ask because, you know, the Trump administration, you know, emptied out the State Department of career diplomats, and we saw a lot of senior leadership leave.

CASTRO: No, that's absolutely right. Morale is near an all-time low. People are walking out the door at a faster rate. Less people are taking the foreign service exam. So we need to look at something like doing a new Foreign Service Act, which hasn't been done in 40 years, since 1980. After this period that we're just coming through, getting through, it would be good to look at doing a new one. And so a damage assessment...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does that mean - a Foreign Service Act?

CASTRO: Well, you know, the Foreign Service Act would essentially think about the structure of the State Department, the role of the State Department in foreign policy, but also within the U.S. government.

And unfortunately, unlike, say, the National Defense Authorization Act that we do every year, which looks at the Defense Department, its spending, all the issues associated with defense, we actually don't look at the State Department enough given that it's an incredibly important diplomatic apparatus for the United States. So I think we need to take a fresh look at that.

Fortunately, there's some efforts underway by different groups to do that. And I think the Congress should undertake it as well. And it's going to take some time, you know? The administration and members of Congress, I think, need to go around the world and look our allies in the face and let them know that the United States is back and that we're going to be a North Star again on those issues of freedom and democracy and human rights and rooting out corruption.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Not to speculate too much, but, I mean, who do you see as a possible head of the State Department?

CASTRO: Well, I know that there's been speculation all around about some great folks. I've seen wonderful names that have been floated so far - you know, Nick Burns and Tony Blinken, Chris Murphy. And there have been incredible folks whose names have been floated. And I think any of those people that Joe Biden - those and others that he might choose from would be great.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's very possible, though, as you mentioned, that there will be a Republican-led Senate. Obviously, we're waiting to see what happens in Georgia. And that is the body responsible for approving the people that Biden will want to appoint to lead the State Department and key national security positions. How complicated do you think that might be if indeed the Republicans are in control?

CASTRO: You're right. I mean, you raise a great point, which is Mitch McConnell has not been the most cooperative, obviously, with Democratic presidents - namely President Obama - in terms of appointments.

Now, I was encouraged that Lindsey Graham made the comment that Joe Biden is entitled to his Cabinet. So I hope that means what it has historically meant, which is there is some deference given to a president to choose his Cabinet, his or her Cabinet. And I hope that's the case this time. And I hope that they - that Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans won't automatically disqualify somebody just because they don't like him or just because they disagree with them on one or two things.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Congressman Joaquin Castro is the vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you very much.

CASTRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!